Humans of ISSF: Sonya Gupta and Claudia Zhu

IMSA Student and ISSF Blogger, Maddison Hahamy, sat down with Claudia Zhu and Sonya Gupta, co-presidents of ISSF, to learn more about their personal experiences designing and planning ISSF 2018.

What is your background at IMSA?

Claudia: I’m currently a senior at IMSA, and I’m also a shmen*, which means that I applied after 8th grade, instead of freshman year of high school like most other students. I decided to apply to IMSA because I came from a STEM-focused magnet school, and I wanted to continue that track in high school. When I applied I was fascinated by molecular biology, but, after attending IMSA, my interests have shifted towards more theoretical concepts through classes such as Modern Physics and Number Theory. IMSA helped me understand more fundamentally how things work. I’m going to pursue a Computer Science major at the University of Pennsylvania next year, and I hope ultimately to attain a career in biomedicine.

Sonya: Like Claudia, I’m both a senior at IMSA and a shmen*, and I initially came from a gifted, liberal arts school. However, I wanted to focus more on math and science, my passions, which is why I applied to IMSA. IMSA’s high quality of education allowed me to not only focus on these passions but to really explore them in a way unrivaled by the public high school that I would have attended. IMSA taught me how to think, instead of memorizing facts and regurgitating them. Everything is interconnected, and IMSA teaches you to understand that and utilize those concepts in whatever future endeavors all of us IMSA students will be embarking on. I will be attending the University of Illinois at Chicago Guaranteed Professional Program Admissions (GPPA) Medicine Program.

What made you fall in love with STEM?

Sonya: From a young age, I was a very curious person. I would ask questions about everything, from how pineapples grow to why the sky is blue. I also took apart objects and seeing the inner workings of these everyday objects also heightened my interest in the field. In my pre-IMSA education, I was able to look at a variety of different subjects, but I was always drawn to science and math. It gave me a way to channel my curiosity and explain the world around me.

Claudia: I was always interested in everything. I used to have an obsession with dinosaurs, and I would carry a giant plastic one everywhere. In first grade, my mom, who is a biomedical research, took me to work with her. She was working on pacemaker cells, the cells that allow your heart to beat, and she let me look at them under the microscope. I was so amazed, and I gained an appreciation for how things could work on a fundamental level. One of the more beautiful qualities of the field is that STEM isn’t just about you: it’s a collaborative effort, which allows me to focus on the bigger picture of helping change the world.

What inspired you guys to get involved in planning ISSF?

Claudia: After I came back from the Japanese Student Science Fair, people from the president’s office mentioned that IMSA was hosting ISSF, and I wanted to find ways that I could get involved, as I had an amazing time at the Japanese Student Science Fair. From my experience, I learned the purpose of the community. Meeting people from around the world makes you feel like you’re a part of something, which is an incredible feeling, and I wanted to have a part in allowing others to experience that community.

Sonya: It started last summer when I was a participant in ISSF last year. I fell in love with it, as I gained a worldlier view on science. I’ve met so many of my really good friends from ISSF. If we put together some of the world’s best young minds, we really can make a huge impact. Claudia and I first met in June, and it was an amazing experience, having real responsibility in making ISSF the best that it can be.

What do you hope will be the impact of ISSF on all of its participants?

Sonya: Collaboration is the biggest thing. Bringing all of these amazing teenagers around the world together, trying to solve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, is an incredible experience, and we don’t want to collaboration to stop at ISSF. We want the goals and visions to continue for generations to come.

Claudia: ISSF has always been a platform for people to share their ideas and talks to others. Even though we’re still kids at our core, ISSF brings together all of these high schoolers doing amazing, cool things. We want ISSF to be a reminder that the SDG’s are important, but you should be thinking about them and improving the world every single day.

What’s your favorite experience working on ISSF so far?

Claudia: Definitely our first Student Buddy Training. Sonya and I oversee the Student Committee Heads, who then oversee the different divisions, such as the Student Buddy’s, who will be there hosting you guys over the summer. During the first training, when we were talking about their roles in ISSF and all of the students from around the world who they would be meeting, their faces lit up, which was so rewarding, after almost two years of hard work making this event happen.

Sonya: Getting to see all of our hard work come true. The Student Buddy Training was the first real moment that I could see how ISSF was affecting people: it wasn’t just words on paper anymore.

What advice do you have for people attending ISSF?

Sonya: ISSF is about the science, but it’s also about the friendships that you will make. They will truly last a lifetime. I still talk to almost everyone that I was friends with during ISSF. So, make sure that you come in with an open mind. Learn about new perspectives and be open to different views and opinions.

Claudia: ISSF is largely about the community that you build, so definitely be willing to talk to people. Everyone at ISSF has a story to tell, so I guarantee that you will learn something from whoever you talk to. Maybe come up with a list of questions that you want to learn about people and come with your phone fully charged so you can add people on social media. And get a social media account if you don’t already have one!

What are you most looking forward to at ISSF?

Sonya: Seeing our hard work come to fruition. Seeing the energy, seeing everyone excited and ready to experience ISSF 2018.

Claudia: ISSF is basically a weeklong party for nerds. There’s so much energy, and I’m really excited for that. Also, I’m really excited to see everyone come to America for the first time and be excited by the smallest things. We’re able to share a piece of our world with everyone else and give them a piece of our heart to take home.

Are there any last words that you guys want to say about ISSF?

Sonya: ISSF is going to be lit (super energetic and eye-opening)!!! ISSF is honestly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, so be ready to come and have an amazing time. I can’t wait to meet all of you!

Claudia: ISSF is what you put into it, so try and talk to and get to know as many people as you can. Everyone has something to share, so come with an open mind and be ready to be open about yourself. Also, be sure to like and follow ISSF2018 on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat!!


*Someone who skipped the ninth grade to come to IMSA

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